My nine-month-old son, Harry loves yoga. His favourite position is being suspended in mid air dangling upside down by his ankles. Hearing him squeal with delight fills me with immense happiness and knowing that this playful stimulation is actually laying a strong physical, emotional and social foundation for his future health is even more gratifying.
Such is the power of baby yoga; in one short session a baby is given as much stimulation as they would receive if they were carried all day, reflecting the values of ‘in arms’ parenting as purported by Jean Liedloff. Being so close to parents strengthens emotional bonds, fosters security and satisfies a baby’s need for touch, affection
and participation. Liedloff stresses that as babies are programmed to watch their parents going about their busy lives, they can feel confused and frustrated if time is spent watching theirs. Essentially then, baby yoga offers a shared hobby, whereby infants as young as three weeks, can participate, both passively and indeed more actively, as they become more independent. The sessions provide an opportunity for parents and their babies to discharge excess energy and to achieve a sense of calm and comfort necessary for holistic wellbeing.
Baby yoga has achieved greater popularity and accessibility over the last decade, largely due to advocates such as Francoise Freedman, a medical anthropology lecturer at Cambridge University. Following her own experiences of pregnancy, she founded BirthLight, an internationally renowned educational trust in 2000, which exists to promote a sensitive approach to pregnancy, birth and babies.
Similarly, Veronika Pena de la Jara, a yoga teacher with seven years experience, also began teaching baby yoga after the birth of her son; “I’d just had a baby and I was a yoga teacher; for me, it just seemed natural to combine the two.” Veronika’s approach to baby yoga evolved organically, sourcing ideas through reading and consulting with other professionals in her field, and gaining insight through drawing on her own experiences. When she began teaching baby yoga, her own son took part from the age of six months to three and a half years, and still enjoys it now he’s at school. “Parents understand that we need to keep healthy, but it’s good for us to know that we can start being active from a very young age.”
Veronika’s sessions are relaxed and informal with parents and babies gathered together in a circle on mats and rugs, with parents being able to feed and change their babies whenever they need to. The class is split into three sections; beginning with baby yoga, followed by a parent and baby section and ending with dedicated time for parents, which includes a relaxation session.
All sequences involving babies are performed to songs and nursery rhymes, which helps capture and hold attention. As soon as Harry hears the opening verse of a song, our eyes meet and I instantly feel connected to a little boy who is eager to participate. A willingness to be involved is an essential within the class.
At the very start, hands are placed on babies’ abdomens and permission to engage in baby yoga is always sought, ensuring that the activity is wholly baby led. When babies tire or crawl off to explore, their decision to do so is respected. This does become a more common choice for older babies once they discover independent mobility, but Veronika assures parents that with persistence, babies will come back to it, eventually becoming more self-directed and even joining in with the songs.
During Harry’s first yoga session, we barely made it through the first few sequences before he was worn out and begging to feed before falling asleep. Such is the experience for many new yoga babies. As a result, sessions are tailored so that everyone can benefit. Babies are often blissfully resting by the adult section, giving important time and space for parents to also relax and nurture themselves, so completing the symbiotic cycle of relaxation.
“'At the very start, hands are placed on babies’ abdomens and permission to engage in baby yoga is always sought, ensuring that the activity is wholly baby led'”
TIME TO STRETCH
Accessing babies physically through the medium of touch, movement and rhythm gently encourages newborns to uncurl from their tight little balls. Postures concentrate on evolving specific aspects of physiology, and include moves which open out the hip and knee joints, and include more challenging positions such as holding babies upside down to help stretch and straighten out their spines and encourage blood flow to the brain, thus stimulating the need to feed and aiding deep restful sleep. Postures such as these enable parents to practice holding their new babies, in order to gain confidence outside of the group setting.
In addition to helping babies stretch out, baby yoga provides remedial management for postnatal mothers. During the adult and baby section, a baby’s weight is utilised to improve post-pregnancy flexibility, strength and muscle tone. Moves include sitting in cobbler position with soles of the feet together whilst babies are bounced on alternate knees. This posture assists in loosening tension in the hip and groin area. Other moves support the re-alignment of the back and pelvic floor and also working on areas of tension related to positions in breast feeding and carrying.
For Veronika, it is the effect upon the nervous system for which yoga carries the most compelling physical influence; “Baby yoga brings awareness into the body. It teaches babies that the body does certain things and that their hands and feet aren’t these alien things. Because of this developing awareness, babies cultivate an innate curiosity to feel and have a sense of their bodies which accelerates hand-eye co-ordination and often sees babies attempt things like crawling and standing at a younger age.”
Not surprisingly, a number of physical ailments can be treated through the regular application of certain movements offering a gentle drug free alternative to managing a range of conditions.
Baby yoga offers a ‘true heal’ rather than masking the problem. Parents can also use it as a form of ‘health insurance’ both for themselves and their babies as it can be utilised as prophylactic treatment against the development of genetic conditions in the future.
The holistic nature of yoga embraces the whole individual, nurturing the physical being in addition to the senses, so generating strong emotional health and well being. Babies absorb the experience of having their parents talking, singing and holding them. Veronika has seen baby yoga cement the relationship between mothers and adopted babies and believes it is the strong one on one nature of the sessions, which fosters this trust. Furthermore, it is suggested that the positive stress induced by baby yoga is thought to heal birth trauma and other fears, which may have developed since birth. Francoise Freedman states that, “some babies don’t like going backwards or having their heads touched. By gently introducing movements that include these actions helps babies to overcome their fears,” suggesting that baby yoga has the potential to heal both the physical and the emotional self.
Sharing activities such as yoga provides important formative learning experiences for babies to see, think about and feel how everyday encounters with others occur. Yoga stimulates babies to become curious about their physical selves and also about others in the group. With time, these collective snippets of information shape and form a baby’s identity and nurture confidence, empathy and self-esteem. The underlying themes of respect, empathy and trust exist within baby yoga to develop their ability to connect with others in a safe and trusting environment. These simple, yet salient interactions resonate to underpin a baby’s ability to form and maintain healthy relationships in the future.
With persistence and patience, parents can empower babies to evolve an inherent knowing of themselves, both physically through the active discovery of their functioning bodies, and also emotionally through the bonds which are established between parent and baby and the social experience of relating to others so enabling babies to blossom into self assured and compassionate individuals.
Try this at home
Allevaite colic and constipation:
With baby lying on their back, place a hand on each knee and one at a time, slowly and gently push and release each thigh into the side of the abdomen to the tune of ‘Run Rabbit Run.’ When you reach ‘jump rabbit’ push and release both thighs into baby’s abdomen. When finished, gently rock baby’s bent legs from side to side to complete the massage.
- Muscle strength and flexibility
- Improved co-ordination
- Nervous system development
- Better digestion
- Improved blood circulation
To find out where your nearest baby yoga class is held or to learn more about training to become a baby yoga teacher contact The BirthLight Trust on 01223 362288 or visit their website at birthlight.com
Baby Yoga: , Francoise Barbira Freedman tinyurl.com/francoisefreedman
The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost, Jean Liedloff tinyurl.com/jeanliedloff
Baby Om: Yoga for Mothers and Babies tinyurl.com/babyom
Sleepy Little Yoga, Rebecca Whitford tinyurl.com/sleepylittleyoga